In a new embarrassment for the Bush administration top spymaster, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is withdrawing an assertion he made to Congress this week that a recently passed electronic-surveillance law helped U.S. authorities foil a major terror plot in Germany.
The temporary measure, signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 5, gave the U.S. intelligence community broad new powers to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications overseas without seeking warrants from the surveillance court. The law expires in six months and is expected to be the subject of intense debate in the months ahead. On Monday, McConnell--questioned by Sen. Joe Lieberman--claimed the law, intended to remedy what the White House said was an intelligence gap, had helped to "facilitate" the arrest of three suspects believed to be planning massive car bombings against American targets in Germany. Other U.S. intelligence-community officials questioned the accuracy of McConnell's testimony and urged his office to correct it. Four intelligence-community officials, who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive material, said the new law, dubbed the "Protect America Act," played little if any role in the unraveling of the German plot. The U.S. military initially provided information that helped the Germans uncover the plot. But that exchange of information took place months before the new "Protect America" law was passed.